Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family

I said this before: it’s fascinating to see phylogenetic and phylogeographic methods being applied to linguistic and anthropological studies. A new example of that is a paper in Science, “Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family” led by Remco Bouckaert that came out today. They use BEAST with basic vocabulary data from 103 ancient and contemporary Indo-European languages to compare two competing hypotheses for the origin of the Indo-European language family, namely that of an origin in the Pontic steppes about 6000 years ago vs. a spread from Anatolia with the expansion of farming 8000 to 9500 years ago. As I wrote in my previous post, I have no hunch about how reliable such estimates are, or rather, how well relatively simple random walk models (which I assume they must use for the inference) work for the evolution of language, but anyways, for someone outside the field that seems like really exciting research.

Figure: Maximum clade credibility tree depicting the variation in rates of cognate replacement along branches for the 103 Indo-European languages. From Bouckaert et al., copyright see publisher.

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